Blame it on my Texan friends….I had a hankering for brisket that would not be denied.
Brisket is not as popular here in St. Louis as it is in other places, so it's a little pricier. I'd been wanting to try my hand at smoking a brisket for a while (especially since my Lonestar friends keep bragging about it!), and after finding a great deal on a good cut of meat, I was ready to give it a whirl!
The only problem? I had no idea what I was doing.
I mean, I know the basics. Meat, seasoning, heat. But as for how to specifically treat a brisket, I was clueless, so I turned to my friendly Texan brisket-experienced friends.
My friend Dave pointed me in the direction of his friend, CK, who gave me some great information of his own and then directed me to his smoking-and-grilling guru, Cab. I spent a friendly hour or so on the phone trying to figure out what the heck the man was saying in his thick, twangy-drawl as he tutored me on the ways of the brisket. I also got a marriage proposal (although I'm pretty sure he was joking) and an offer to join him and his competition team anytime for a taste of what real 'Meat Whispering' is all about.
I promise, that didn't sound as naughty when it was said as it looks in print.
Thankfully, Cab pointed me to a few different websites that had all the information I was looking for and the methods he swears by, so my hastily written notes could be rounded out. He probably figured that I wouldn't have to call and bug him with questions all day long either! Smart man, that Cab.
Armed with my newfound knowledge and a sense of adventure and that hankerin' for brisket, I started out.
First came the rub: salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard powder, chili powder, cayenne, and sugar.
When I mentioned I would be substituting coconut palm sugar for the white sugar, the silence was awkward- and deafening. I'm pretty sure I lost a few points there.
The brisket was rubbed lightly with olive oil, and the rub massaged in all over the meat.
I don't bother buying wood chips anymore. I collect the fallen deadwood from our yard and our neighbors and use it for smoking. It's primarily oak, which offers a good smoky flavor- for FREE- with the added benefit of getting the yard cleaned up.
I do love a win-win situation.
I usually rotate my branches and sticks in the water, replacing them as I use them throughout the smoking process. I'm sure chunks or logs would be better, but with my makeshift smoker/grill, it's not a good idea, as it raises the temperature too high inside the smoker. The branches still burn a bit too much for my tastes, but it'll do for now.
If anyone at Weber sees this andwants to gift me with a grill/smoker, I sure woudn't turn one down.
Once the brisket is on the grill (with the fat cap up), it cooks for about 5 hours, until it hits The Stall.
According to my (very knowledgeable) sources, The Stall usually happens around 150F…the temperature of the meat rises, and then hits a certain point and just doesn't move. For hours. Basically, The Stall occurs because your meat is coming up to a temperature where the moisture inside is released, leading to evaporation. Just like when you sweat, when the meat 'sweats', it cools, until all the moisture is released and the evaporation process stops.
Stalls happen with anything cooked 'low and slow', including baked goods. It's a natural phenomenon, and are (apparently) not a cause for concern, other than you have to wait, and wait, and wait, and wait, and wait… stalls, it seems, can last several hours.
Okay, so how do you get around it?
The secret, as I was told, is to use what is called a Texas Crutch, or a Foil Jump, which is basically the method of wrapping the meat in foil, usually with a little liquid of some sort. The meat doesn't steam- it's sort of like a braise, with the foil acting like a slow cooker. It raises the temperature without the huge stall and is a method preferred by a lot of folks
I used a little bit of bone broth and some mediocre boxed wine that I needed to get rid of for the braising liquid. I would have preferred beer or juice, but I didn't have either of them on hand.
Of course, using the Crutch, you lose that really crunchy bark, because the outer surface of the meat softens int he liquid and the humid foil crutch. However, I was assured that a quick grill over high heat for about 10 minutes on each side was what would really do the trick to cook that moisture away.
Of everything I did, this is where I goofed. I removed the brisket, fired up the grill, but then wasn't thinking… the first side grilled up quite nicely. But then I flipped it, fat-side down, and stepped back inside to make my cauliflower mashed potatoes…and looked out the window to see the flames greedily eating up my brisket.
I was NOT Happy.
With fingers crossed in the hopes that I hadn't ruined my efforts, I continued on, removing the brisket and wrapping it in foil and a couple layers of towels and setting it in a cooler for a couple hours. Similar to putting cooked food in a warm oven to hold, the faux Cambro basically lets the meat tenderize a little and hover at it's cooked temperature.
Don't ask me how..that's science and stuff. Just trust me.
With fingers still crossed, I pulled out the brisket and unwrapped it. Holy crap, the thing was still really hot to the touch after 2 hours!
Despite the rub/crust on the fat cap being burnt, the rest of the brisket turned out beautifully, and I'm pretty darn impressed with myself.
Huge thanks to Dave, CK and Cab for all their help!
3 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons table salt
1 tablespoon coconut palm sugar crystals
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 teaspoons mustard powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons chili or ancho powder
1 teaspoon chipotle or cayenne powder
1 whole packer brisket (about 10-12 lbs)
1 cup beef broth (or broth and wine or beer)
Dry the brisket with paper towels.
Lightly oil the meat with olive oil.
Spread the rub generously over every surface of the meat.
If you can, let the rub sit on the meat for an hour or two to let some of the flavors penetrate the meat.
Put the meat on the cooker, fat side up and cook/smoke over indirect heat.
After about 2 to 4 hours, by which time the meat will have hit about 150°F, take it off and wrap it in a double layer of heavy-duty foil (or put it in a pan just larger than the meat and cover it with foil). CAREFULLY pour a cup of beef broth around the sides of the meat- yu don't want to wash off the rub before you seal the foil. Then crimp it tight and put the wrapped meat back on the smoker or move it to an indoor oven at 225°F.
Put the foil-wrapped brisket back on the grill.
Remove the brisket from the foil when the temperature hits around 200F, and grill on each side over direct heat about 10 minutes on each side, or until the bark crisps up.
Place the brisket into foil (I just reuse the foil from the Crutch) and wrap in several towels, then place in a cooler or other insulated box for about 2 hours.
In the meantime, make the sauce (see below).
When ready to serve, slice your brisket diagonally against the grain. Don't slice until JUST before serving, as brisket dries out quickly.
If needed/desired, firm up the crust a bit by unwrapping the meat and putting it over a hot grill or under a broiler for a few minutes on each side. Watch it closely so it doesn't burn.
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons American chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon of butter or bacon fat
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 cup leftover brisket juices from the Crutch (or 1 cup your favorite beer)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons hot sauce to taste
2 cups beef stock
In a one quart saucepan, melt the butter or bacon fat and gently cook the onion over medium heat until translucent.
Add the garlic, bell pepper, and the paprika, black pepper, American chili powder, and cumin.
Stir, and cook for two minutes to extract the flavors.
Add the stock and the rest of the ingredients. Stir until well blended. Simmer on medium for 15 minutes. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for a month or so.